If you are planning to start a website and face the WWW vs non WWW issue, you are in the right place.
In this post, we will discuss:
- What’s the difference between WWW and non WWW
- What’s better for SEO
Both WWW and non WWW URLs have pros and cons. But, there are methods to work around with each of them.
So, let’s get started.
History of WWW
If you have ever found yourself wondering:
- What’s the point of WWW,
- Why do we type www.domain.com in the address bar, or
- Where did it come from,
you’ll find the answer here.
Let me give you a bit of background.
The two basic things required to run a website are server and domain name. All your website files are stored on the server, and you can access them via the server’s IP address.
The domain name allows users to access your website. Users easily find your site by typing the domain name in the address bar instead of the server’s IP address.
In the early days of the world wide web, every organization owned and managed its network of servers. Every server was a host and performed a single function like storing files for the web or mail exchange.
So, each server was assigned a host name.
- WWW: Server that stores files for sharing on the web
- ftp: Server used for exchanging files within the network
- mail: Server that handles email delivery over a network
When combined with the domain name, each host name formed a fully qualified domain name (FQDN).
- To access server that stores files – www.domain.com
- To access server used for exchanging files – ftp.domain.com
- To access server that handles emails – mail.domain.com
Users accessed the required server by entering its FQDN in the browser. That was why using ‘WWW’ before the domain name was essential.
Fast forward to today, the World Wide Web has come a long way. You can store files, exchange files, and handle emails on the same server.
Therefore, most websites use a single server, which performs multiple functions. It points the root domain and the host name to the same IP address, allowing users to access your website even if they forget to add WWW before the domain name.
As of today, it has become a general rule of thumb to do it this way.
So, let’s start by understanding if we can use both versions (WWW version and non WWW version) for a domain.
Using WWW Version And Non WWW Version For Your Domain
Non WWW URLs are also known as naked domains. They are easy to read, remember, spell and tell.
On the other hand, WWW domains might be hard to memorize, say, and write. But, they have slight technical advantages.
You can use both versions of the domain for their respective benefits. But here’s a small problem.
Search engines recognize WWW domains and non WWW domains as two different entities.
So, you need to inform the search engines – which one is your preferred domain. Also, you need to redirect the less preferred domain to it.
For example, we use www.rankwatch.com as our preferred domain, and rankwatch.com redirects to it.
That means, whenever users access the non WWW version of our site, they get diverted to the WWW version.
Even though the web browsers hide the WWW part, users can view the entire URL by clicking twice in the address bar.
It must be clear now that there is no difference between using WWW and non WWW URLs. But, we will discuss what’s SEO-friendly later.
With that, let’s quickly learn to indicate the preferred domain (or canonical domain) and to redirect the non-preferred URL to it.
Setting The Canonical URL
A canonical URL is a small HTML code, which indicates the canonical or preferred domain to the search engines.
It helps the search engines know the ‘official URL’ of your site. In simple words, they get to know the URL you want to get valued in SERPs.
It is a good practice to set the canonical URL for every page on your website if you are using both WWW and non WWW URLs.
Now, how do you set the canonical URL?
Method 1: Using Google Search Console
It’s simple, easy, and takes less than a minute. Just follow these steps:
Step 1: Go to the Google Search Console home page.
Step 2: Select your site’s preferred version from the top-left dropdown.
Step 3: Click on the gear icon.
Step 4: Select Site Settings.
Step 5: Go to the Preferred Domain section.
Step 6: Set your Canonical URL.
Method 2: Using 301 Redirects
There’s another (common) way to do it. It’s using a server redirect to show the canonical version of a site.
When you use a 301 redirect, you tell the search bots that you redirect a URL permanently to a new address.
You can redirect the less preferred domain to the preferred domain and easily indicate the canonical URL to search engines.
Here, you should not get confused with 302 redirects, which are used when the redirection is temporary.
Google does not pass domain authority from a 302 temporary redirect. So, it will be a blunder if you use 302 redirects to tell canonical URLs.
Method 3: Using rel=canonical tags
For some reason, if setting up 301 redirects is not possible for you, there’s another way out.
You can add the rel=canonical <link> tag to the HTML code for your less preferred pages.
Since Google treats canonical tags as recommendations and not instructions, they are not as reliable as 301 redirects.
They might serve the purpose for the time being, but there’s a chance that both versions of your site get indexed.
So, if adding canonical tags works better for you, you can go ahead with it.
Here’s the syntax to add canonical tags:
To keep things running smoothly, make it a note to run website audits regularly to check if your site’s canonical URLs are well in place.
If they are not, take necessary action and fix it as soon as possible.
Next, you should be prepared for another scenario. It’s migrating your site from http to https.
Migrating From Http To Https
Like the WWW and non WWW versions, Google views http and https as two different versions of a site.
You need to ensure that users reach the secured, https version of your site. And search engines index it.
When you migrate your site from http to https, you must keep the same format in the Site Settings of Google Search Console.
Once the migration is complete, you have to add and verify both versions with Google Search Console.
After verification, you have to set your preferred domain as per your previous preference.
With that, let us move to the pros and cons of both versions.
Pros And Cons: WWW vs non WWW
If you’re thinking that people are using WWW before their domain name just because it has been a standard for many, many years, it’s your mistake.
People use the domain’s WWW version because it allows you to do some cool things. Let’s have a look at them.
Pros of WWW
1) Taming Website Cookies: When you use the domain’s WWW version, you can control the cookies set on it. If you add cookies for your WWW domain, it will automatically pass to all its subdomains.
For example, you have x.www.domain.com and y.www.domain.com subdomains. Then, the cookies you set on www.domain.com will pass on to these subdomains.
Also, the cookies won’t pass to other subdomains of the site like blog.domain.com or login.domain.com.
So, adding the WWW prefix to your domain allows you to restrict the cookies you want to add for each subdomain.
2) Flexibility with DNS and CDN: The WWW subdomains are much more flexible when you work with DNS and CDN.
Since DNS requests don’t allow pointing a non WWW host name to a CDN domain, doing so leads to unexpected errors.
On the other hand, if you select the WWW host name as your preferred version, it complies with the DNS rules.
This flexibility, in turn, helps you to use CDNs in a much easier way.
Cons of WWW
Technically speaking, there are little or no downsides to using the WWW version. The only drawback is that people don’t bother to type WWW in the address bar, and it would become obsolete anytime sooner.
1) Short & Pretty Domains: The good thing about non WWW or naked domains is that they are short and pretty. They are readable, memorable and easy to tell.
2) Bandwidth Saving: If you need to add cookies to your entire site or don’t need cookies at all, you can save bandwidth with naked URLs.
When you use the WWW version of the domain, there are 4 more bytes of data to be sent. The 3 bytes are of WWW and the 4th is the dot before your domain name.
Cons of Non WWW
1) No Cookie Restriction: You cannot restrict cookies to the root domain in the case of Non WWW URLs. Issues will arise when you want to use different cookies on your root domain and your subdomains.
Most websites and blogs host images on the same domain, and so the cookies get transferred either way. In such a scenario, no cookie restriction won’t be an issue.
2) Traffic Diversion Troubles: Non WWW domains don’t have CNAME records, which leads to multiple issues. The first is the trouble in diverting traffic from one server to another when the site has excess traffic or the server malfunctions.
You cannot divert traffic from your existing server to a healthy server with a non WWW domain in use. It might give you serious concerns in times of dire need.
3) Poor Compatibility with CDNs: Naked URLs have very poor compatibility with CDNs. You will not be able to point your root domain (naked domain) to the CDN without messing up other things like FTP and Mail.
WWW vs Non WWW – The Better One?
After the comparison, it is clear that WWW domains have some inherent advantages.
However, you can avail the benefits only if you are having a large website with multiple subdomains and many servers.
Small websites don’t get affected by the type of domain you use. Both WWW and non WWW domains work just as fine.
But, everyone wants their website to grow. It means that small websites will become big websites in the future. So, you should prepare for it and choose the domain version accordingly.
Although WWW appears to be the best option, you can implement some workarounds and make non WWW just as good.
The most common way to work with naked domains is to host your site’s static content on a separate domain. For example, Yahoo uses the domain yimg.com to host its static content.
Also, you can use CDNs that offer workarounds like CNAME Flattening, ANAME, or alias records if you have a website without WWW.
For example, Cloudflare uses CNAME flattening to share content across the web.
Like these, many more workarounds exist. But, you must consider all the factors before deciding what’s better for your site.
SEO Perspective: WWW vs Non WWW
From an SEO perspective, using the WWW version or non WWW version doesn’t make a difference.
As long as you have set a preferred domain and the other one redirects to it, your site will perform well in searches.
Now, if you consider things like http and https, your domain will have four possible combinations:
Your site’s performance and user experience will be affected if the remaining URLs don’t point to the preferred URL. So, make sure to redirect all other versions to the canonical URL.
In a nutshell, using WWW or not depends on your branding and your site’s technical capabilities.
It is your personal choice whether you want to go for a WWW or a non WWW domain.
WWW vs Non WWW: Making A Choice
If you have a small website and don’t plan to scale it in the future, using WWW or not makes no difference. Go ahead with whatever you like.
However, if you wish to launch a big website with multiple pages and tons of multimedia content, you don’t have a choice.
In such a case, it becomes essential to use WWW before your domain. It does not add much complexity and makes things a lot easier in the long run.
And irrespective of the choice you make, you must stick to your preferred URL. If Google has already indexed it, there’s no point in going through all the hassle of changing your preferred URL.
Remember, you will be risking your search rankings whenever you decide to switch from one version to another. So, it’s better to stick to the one you choose in the beginning.
WWW or no WWW Is A Matter Of Preference…
As the internet evolves, things will get easier and convenient. There might be a time in the future when you will forget WWW and host your site directly on the root domain.
However, let’s come back to the present. The WWW vs non WWW debate has a clear conclusion – it’s your choice. It doesn’t impact the usability of your site.
The most critical factor in determining whether to use WWW or not is your site’s expected size.
But, if you are not sure, I’d suggest you use the WWW version. It has slight technical advantages that give you a marginal edge in SEO.
Once you make a choice, just set your canonical URL and stick with it.
Finally, we’d like to know your views on using WWW or not. What’s your preferred choice?